“I went up that tower yesterday!” Ruben Zoehout told The Local, pointing to the top of the watch tower at Bernauer Straße from where Michelle Obama and her daughters were surveying the remnants of the wall which once divided Berlin.
“It’s such a special feeling to think they’re up there at almost the same time,” he added.
Zoethout, a Dutch civil servant, drove all the way from Holland for the Obamas’ visit. “I came to absorb the atmosphere,” he said. “I got up at 6am this morning. Usually I find it hard to get up but this is just so exciting.”
For Zoethuot, Michelle Obama’s visit to Bernauer Straße – one of the few places in the city where original parts of the wall remain – is particularly significant.
“This is about creating a memory. Some of my friends said I was stupid to come all the way. But this is such a special moment. The world is moving closer together,” he said.
Berliner Claudia Wulff, as she craned her neck to get a glimpse at Michelle at the top of the tower, was not quite so impressed. “I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get a wave,” she said. Then added with a chuckle, “especially as this is such a women’s event!”
Wulff, who lives in the neighbourhood, nevertheless acknowledged Michelle’s visit to the area was “exciting.” However, she believed there wasn’t “much of a relationship” between the United States and Germany.
“I mean, he’s telling us to sort out the euro crisis,” she said. “Although I suppose he’s right.”
Her friend, Bibi-Sabira-Dul, who has roots in Pakistan and Afghanistan, piped up. “I’m very disappointed about Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay … I would tell Michelle that myself if I could.”
“There are innocent people in Guantanamo,” she told The Local. “Obama needs to realise that practicing your religion is not the same as being a terrorist.”
“Otherwise though I am quite content with him,” she said and agreed that Michelle Obama’s visit to this particular spot was important.
“This is where freedom began,” said Sabira-Dul. “It’s the centre of world freedom. This place is a reminder that division doesn’t work.”
For Sabira-Dul however, the gap between the Islamic and Western world is one politicians have so far failed to bridge.
Another person worried about bridging gaps of a much more concrete kind was Nam Tan, a software developer who works on the other side of the road, which police had cordoned off.
“I work over there!” he said. “I walked all the way around because the trains weren’t running. But now I’m stuck. I’m going to be late and I have a meeting.”
Tan wasn’t surprised however that Michelle Obama and her daughters had come to Bernauer Straße. “It’s part of Berlin’s history.” he said. “It’s the first place anybody coming to Berlin would go.”
For others gathered at the stretch of the former wall, Michelle Obama’s visit corresponded with their own first trip to Berlin. Christine von Hof, who lives outside of Frankfurt, had never been to Berlin before. “It’s simply unimaginable to think that this spot marked the division of the entire city,” she said.
Fellow German, Ulrike Full – a teacher – and her son Nicolas, were also hoping to get a glimpse of the First Lady at the historic spot. “My son was learning about the Obamas at school,” Full said. “I went to the museum here recently,” she said. “I would definitely recommend everybody visit it.”
Full said the Obamas were particularly popular among young people. “I’m talking about 15 and 16 year-olds,” she said. “For older people, it might be a slightly different story.”
Rudolf Nielsen, who is holidaying in Berlin this week, stumbled across the scene at Bernauer Straße by chance. He thinks the relationship between Germany and the United States has become more meaningful.
The First Lady, Nielsen said, was “more popular than her husband” though he acknowledged that her role was “easier,” or at least “different”.